It's not easy being in charge of the LAPD's 77th Street Division.
Well, any LAPD division, really. But 77th St. presents a particular set of challenges – and Captain Robert Arcos, who just assumed command of the division on Sept. 9, is getting a crash course.
For starters, 77th St. has the highest homicide rate in the city. As of press time, 43 people this year have been murdered within the division's boundaries, and of those, Arcos estimates around 60 percent are gang-related.
"Gang violence has to be our number-one priority," said Arcos. "We have to develop an interdiction strategy that goes to a deeper core of the problems. And it's not just going to be law enforcement alone. We need a very holistic approach that uses city and county resources."
Part of his "holistic approach" involves using gang interventionists. Arcos estimates that 77th St. is home to between 25 and 30 gangs, although that number's always in flux. In terms of sheer quantity, that's nothing compared to neighboring Newton Division, whose Gang Enforcement Unit estimates that between 50 and 60 gangs live within its 9-square-mile radius.
But the murder rate's higher in 77th St. than it is in Newton – Newton has seen 14 homicides this year – and 77th St. detectives recently told OnCentral that gangs are becoming more emboldened in their violence. The killing of Patrick Caruthers is a fresh example.
Arcos is a 24-year veteran of the force coming off a stint as the patrol captain of Olympic Division, but 77th St. is a different beast, and there are a lot of things for him to get used to. Casitas – underground clubs – are one of them.
"It's something that's fairly new to me," he said, adding that street sources are going to be crucial in combating the problem. Casitas, which in Spanish translates to "little houses," are hives of gang activity and hubs for drug use, illegal gambling and prostitution. Arcos said 77th St. officers recently shut one down on the east side of the division.
"Those are problematic, because they do breed a lot of potential for other crimes," he said.
Sex crimes are also up, he said. A lot of rape victims in 77th St. are prostitutes, and he said some of them view their being sexually assaulted as a mere "business dispute." But not detectives.
"Nothing is every taken lightly because of the background or history of a victim," he said. "It does require a great deal of compassion, understanding and experience from our detectives."
And then there's what Arcos calls "small-time stuff": People smashing car windows to get pocket changes, sunglasses, food. That's a lot of money in damage for a haul that's often worth less than $20 – and a solid reason to follow the police's insistent advice that you lock your car doors.
Arcos knows he signed up for a difficult job, and says "making a difference" is important to him. He wants people to get to know their neighbors, because "that is really the best crime prevention." He wants people to report crime, whether or not it's anonymously. He knows most of the people of 77th St. Division are "good, hardworking citizens" – and wishes he could spend more time with them, rather than the criminals.
"When we're called, we're called to be the problem-solver," Arcos said. "That's the attitude that we should be going in there with."
And the captain wants to be transparent and accessible. To that end, he's starting something called "Captain's Corner," an online video he'll release regularly where he'll provide the community with updates on crimes and break down what all the numbers mean. The first one is set to be posted on the division's website next week.
Arcos also wants folks to contact his senior lead officers – not just with tips, but questions or comments for him.
"Making a difference in the lives of people who work in these communities here – we know it's important to [the community]," he said. "The men and women here [at 77th St.] really do take it to heart."
To contact senior lead officers for 77th St. Division, call (213) 847-2817. To give police an anonymous tip, call (800) 222-TIPS.